In Carroll, officials see signs of discontent

Growth of billboards called `visual pollution'

November 16, 2001|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

In a one-mile stretch of Route 140 in Finksburg, where businesses are few, 16 billboards line the highway. Recently one promoted a sport utility vehicle that promised to "take you where there are no billboards."

If some people had their way, that place would be all of Carroll.

"There should be an immediate moratorium on billboards, and then they should be phased out," said Donald Hoffman, who chaired a Gateway Committee charged with studying entrances to Carroll County. "Billboards are ugly. Route 140 in Finksburg is scarred by visual pollution."

In a report to the county Economic Development Commission yesterday, Hoffman called for new zoning to reduce the number of signs and compensation for billboard owners at fair-market value.

The commission chose a narrower vision, one suggested by David Roush, plant manager for Lehigh Portland Cement Co. in Union Bridge. Roush said the county initially should concentrate on road signs in one area.

"We will flounder, if we try banning billboards throughout the county," Roush said. "Let's take a look at one greenway and deal with it. We will see how it looks and how we like it. Let's narrow the focus to something we can work on."

Members said they would review the report and choose one area, probably Finksburg, and focus on making it more eye-pleasing.

"Dave Roush is right on the mark," said Carroll Commissioner Donald I. Dell. "Let's address one area as a pilot program. I think Finksburg, our most concentrated gateway, is the most appropriate to try."

Eric Murr, general manager of NextMedia, an outdoor advertiser with 154 billboards in the county, said he is "absolutely in agreement that things need to be done."

Murr is willing to work with the county "to minimize and not to continually proliferate signs," he said. But, he said, completely eliminating billboards is anti-business.

"This is a complex issue, and there is not a person in the room who would not agree that something must be done," he said. "But 98 percent of the boards in our inventory are displaying local advertising."

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